By Gail Thomas

Medlars ready to pick

Medlars ready to pick in autumn

Medlars (Mespilus germanica) have been cultivated for centuries and are an extremely ornamental and useful hardy tree native to the south-east Europe and the eastern part of Turkey.

Single white, sometimes pink flushed unscented flowers in late spring and vibrant russet reddish-brown foliage in late autumn add to the eye appeal of the round flattened tan fruit with its indented calyx and crown of pointed sepal remnants. Fruit matures to a dark brown in late autumn to early winter.


Medlar covered in fruit by Gail Thomas

Medlar tree in full autumn colours

Medlar tree in full autumn colours

Medlars prefer full sun and grow well in temperate and cool climates to around 2-4m tall and 3-4m wide. They are adaptable to most well drained soils, are not bothered by frost and prefer to be protected from wind. The trees thrive on animal manure and other organic fertiliser and only require light pruning in winter. They can also be espaliered, pruned to an open vase or topiary shape or grown in pots.

There are two cultivars, both self-fertile, the spreading Dutch that produces large fruit and the more compact Nottingham which bears smaller fruit best eaten fresh.

Medlars are best picked while still hard then stored in cool dry place calyx down for 1-2 weeks to blett when the fruit will soften and take on a dark brown hue otherwise they are extremely unpalatable due to their high tannins. Once ripe, medlars have an over-ripe apple aroma with a soft delicate custard-like texture and a mild honeyed flavour.

Medlars contains large seeds, are easy to peel and can be incorporated into cakes, cookies, desserts such as puddings or as a mousse and also make an interesting alternative to quince paste to serve as a cheese or meat accompaniment. Being high in pectin they are excellent for jam or jelly. Peeling the fruit and removing the seeds from the paste-like flesh can be a time-consuming and messy but well worth the effort as the jelly is particularly good as an accompaniment to game meats or incorporated into savoury sauces. Medlars can also be made into a liqueur by placing the fruit in a jar with vodka and sugar and leaving for a few months to mature.